Tenor Emanuel-Cristian Caraman alerted his friend conductor Wishart Bell to the lovely choral music of Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez.
The two have performed Ramirez’s works together three times, and they’re bringing back “Navidad Nuestra,” a six-part suite of choral pieces Ramirez composed in 1964, that give an account of the Nativity story. It was the centerpiece of a concert titled “Seasons of Light,” presented by the Vesper Chorale and the Children’s Choir of Michiana on Saturday, December 22 at the Goshen Theater in Goshen and Sunday, December 23 at St. Adalbert’s Church in South Bend.
Vesper Chorale’s Diverse Journeys concert series has found the group exploring music from several cultures, and the ensemble is probably best known for its performances of the stunning “Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps,” by Donald McCullough.Bell wanted to highlight the Spanish language this year in acknowledgement of the growing ties among Mennonites and Latinos. The Ramirez piece was a natural choice.
“Kern Road Mennonite Church is one of the main sponsors. They give us rehearsal space and that sort of thing, and it’s their 50th anniversary,” Bell says. Vesper Chorale recently played Ramirez’s music at a concert for the church, “because of the larger Mennonite connection to the Hispanic community here and in other parts of the world,” he says. The work makes plenty of sense for people who can’t speak Spanish, because the Nativity story is so familiar that it’s simple enough to follow along.
A joyous Annunciation song sets the tone, and goes into “La Peregrinación,” a poignant account of Mary and Joseph’s frustrations in their attempts to find shelter. It’s such a lovely melody that it has sprung up in many other forms: the King’s Singers do it in a pop a cappella arrangement, and it’s taken life in versions for solo guitar and guitar trio.
“Each of the movements represents a different geographical folk culture from the mountains around Argentina,” Bell says. “So they’re all quite different.” Bell notes that various groups have performed the work with different kinds of instrumentation, often using an accordion. Such flexibility underscores the point that it’s folk music. Along with the voices, the Vesper Chorale deployed percussion, Andean flute, guitars, bass and the charango, a relative of the lute. The concert also featured songs and carols from Brazil and Mexico, and performances by the Children’s Choir of Michiana and the choir from St. Adalbert’s Church.
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